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2011 Nissan Sentra Performance

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Performance
The front-wheel-drive 2011 Nissan Sentra comes with three different engines, and manual or continuously variable (CVT) transmissions, along with suspension tuning that's very different between trims. So the Sentra spans several quite different personalities.

And, from our editors' driving experience with the various models of the Sentra, the basic 2.0, 2.0 S, and 2.0 SL versions are the most successful. They each come with a 140-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, with either a six-speed manual (S only) or the Xtronic CVT (S or SL), and are adequate but not particularly spirited with either shift method. The CVT might take a little getting used to as there's a slight delay while the revs ramp up, then a raucous drone during hard acceleration. These basic Sentra models don't make any sporty claims, but they're actually quite light and nimble-feeling—and very maneuverable—and the driving experience is pleasantly straightforward.

The sporty SE-R trim brings a larger 2.5-liter engine making 177 hp, matched only to the CVT. Then at the top of the line, the performance-focused SE-R Spec V gets a 200-hp, 2.5-liter four, hooked up to a six-speed manual gearbox. But both of these models miss the marks, for different reasons. The CVT, in particular, simply doesn't fit the sportier character of the SE-R. The Spec V delivers on the handling front, with substantial upgrades to the suspension and brakes, along with appearance upgrades inside and out; but it doesn't feel as edgy as the MazdaSpeed3, or even the Honda Civic Si.

While top SE-R and Spec V performance models don't quite deliver the thrills they promise, the basic Sentra models perform better than most commuter cars.

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